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In the English language, all the parts of a sentence are equally important. Amongst these, there are determiners, that working along verbs, personal pronouns, and nouns, help give meaning to the sentence and to give more context to what’s being said.
Determiners are words which modify nouns and noun phrases. It means that they give more details about these, giving more context to the sentence as a whole. They can talk about quantity, proximity, possession, or even specificity.
There’s not just one type of determiners, on the contrary, articles -both definite and indefinite-, demonstrative adjectives, quantifiers, and also possessive articles form part of the list of determiners in English.
Usually, determiners can go unnoticed in most English classes, both for native English students and foreign learners. However, this sentence element makes comprehending the main idea easier and help pass on the information more clearly.
The indefinite articles a and an are used with singular nouns that aren’t specific, and they can also be used to talk about something for the first time. For example: “Laura has a new best friend.”
The definite article the is used to talk about an element that has been mentioned previously, and it’s generally used with singular nouns, or with specific plurals that have a unique quality to them. For example: “Laura’s new best friend is the girl on the right.”
Examples with articles as determiners in English:
Bring the book when you finish with it.
Elena gave me a medal for my accomplishments.
We need an architect to design our house.
Turn of the light, please.
Demonstratives: this, these, that, those
This kind of determiners always goes before the noun they are modifying. These are used to point out something, especially when there’s already a reference to what’s being discussed. For example: “James is looking for those shoes he likes.” In this case, it’s understood that there’s some previous knowledge about the shoes.
The demonstrative determiners can also act as pronouns in a sentence, but in these type of cases their position in the sentence varies, and they can be found acting as subjects.
Examples of demonstratives acting as determiners:
Let’s go, Andy. We will take this camera with us.
Leonard told me that those are his dogs.
Camila and Daniel go to that school around the corner.
I will use these green earrings.
Possessive Determiners: my, your, his, her, our, their, whose, etc.
The possessive determiners are used to talk about possession. In the sentence, these are always followed by the noun they are modifying. This is a characteristic that differentiates them from the possessive pronouns.
For example, in the sentence “Let’s go to your house.”, the determiner helps establish whose house is being talked about. In the next example, “I have my friend’s shoes on the bag.”, it makes clear whose shoes are being discussed.
Examples of possessives determiners:
Kate has my new bike.
Pe The girls are going to your house later.
I have my favorite shirt and my brother’s hat.
The cat hissed and showed its claws.
Quantifiers: much, many, few, a few, little, a little, enough, plenty, many, some, most
Just as their name suggests, when working as determiners, quantifiers talk about quantities related to the noun. These always go before the noun they modify. For example: “Erika has both notebooks.”, in this sentence, the quantifier states how many notebooks Erika has.
Examples of quantifiers as determiners:
She has been to many places this past year.
Eve has enough water in her backpack.
The boys have both notebooks on the table.
Next week we’ll have a few free days.
Distributives: half, all, either, neither, both, each, every
Distributives determiners are used to reference a group of elements, whether it’s a group of people or things. These talk about how the elements are distributed or divided. For example: “Patty has half the pudding.”
Examples of distributive determiners:
They called every football player to the field.
Elisa had both books.
The team could play in either field.
You can talk to all of them.
Difference words: another, other, the other
The determiners of difference are amongst the most used determiners in English. These are used to refer to something different from the noun they modify, or to talk about something that’s complementary to it. For example: “I can’t go to the play, I have another event to go to.”
Examples of determiners of difference:
Daria wasn’t swimming, she was doing another sport.
I didn’t bring the green bag, I brought the other one.
Fanny is not with Emily, she’s with her other friend.
Greg and Louis have found another creek to play.
Numbers: one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, first, second, etc.
The numbers can also act as determiners in some cases. When these are in a sentence and they are followed by a noun, they might act as determiners, and they can clarify the number of elements that are being talked about. For example: “I have ten eggs in the kitchen.”
The ordinal numbers can also act as determiners in some cases, for example, in this sentence “Today is Steph’s seventh birthday.”, the determiner states how many birthdays Steph has had, giving more context to the sentence.
Examples of numbers as determiners in English:
Tania has three new cats.
The band has four concerts next month.
This is the fourth time the phone rings.
Irene sent her third letter this week.
Pre-determiners: what, rather, such, quite
Pre-determiners have the same use as determiners in general, they modify the word that comes after them. However, there’s a difference. Pre-determiners modify the determiner that’s already in the sentence.
For the words “what” and “such”, the main use is to express emotions about the determiner they’re modifying (anger, surprise, etc.), while the words “quite” and “rather” - which are more frequent in British English than in American English - express the degree of the quality they modify.
Examples of pre-determiners:
She was a dancer, what a lovely profession!
April has a puppy, it’s such a beautiful dog!
It’s started raining, it was quite an unexpected change.
It’s rather a nice bicycle.
Given that there are many determiners that can be used in English, it’s important to know that the right choice is strictly related to the type of noun or noun phrase that the speaker is using.
That’s why there are several determiners that should be used with singular nouns, which should always be accompanied by a determiner, and also, some are meant to be used with plural or uncountable nouns, which doesn’t always require the use of one of these elements.
Finally, is also good to know even though both determiners and adjectives can modify a noun, these two elements are very different. Unlike adjectives, determiners can’t be graded. An adjective following a noun can have different degrees (like hot, hotter or hottest), while a determiner can’t be graded like this.
More so, adjectives can be optional and give extra details about a noun, while determiners are necessary and act as an introduction of the noun.
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